For me, xxxHolic walks a fine line. At its root, this series is a motley collection of morality tales framed by slapstick humor and J-horror. It’s something of a unique twist on the average anime (which isn’t particularly surprising coming from CLAMP), but, in the end, comes together with just enough cohesion to push it into a likable state.
At the start of the series, viewers are quickly introduced to all the major players. First and foremost is Kimihiro Watanuki, a teenage boy that sees both good and evil spirits. Watanuki doesn’t really enjoy this gift – he sees it more as a curse – and signs a contract with a wish granting woman named Yuuko to rid him of its presence. Unfortunately, Yuuko demands payment of Watanuki and thus employs him as a cook, messenger, and general servant. A number of other character act as support for Watanuki, but none are featured as much as the young gangly boy. From there you’ll experience a range of teenage subplots, everything from angst driven romances to male rivalry, all of which revolve around a series of loosely connected episodes that dance between the lighthearted and the macabre.
The plot, however, isn’t the first thing most viewers will notice. In typical CLAMP style, the artwork in xxxHolic borders on the abstract, with most characters sporting elongated limbs, pseudo-chibi faces, and sometimes disproportionately large breasts (at least in the case of Yuuko). The men are effeminate and the women have the sort of costume design that CLAMP has become known for. The twins in the series – another pair of indentured servants to Yuuko – are particularly adorable, but only make a few appearances in the episodes and mostly for comic relief.
Throughout xxxHolic, I found the dialogue to range from deep and insightful to horribly annoying depending upon the situation. Unfortunately, the folks at CLAMP decided to take certain episodes to really focus on Watanuki’s attraction to one of his female schoolmates, and it’s in these moments that the show goes through its most rapid devolution.
Because of his hyperactive and bipolar behavior, Watanuki is constantly flip-flopping his attitude throughout the show, often with drastic stylizations that, by the end of the series, become more of an annoyance than a laugh-out-loud moment. Some of these issues stem from the herky-jerky animation used in these segments, abrasive sound effects, and general feeling of episode filler.
That said, xxxHolic is certainly an above average experience for the CLAMP fan or outside-the-box anime enthusiast. The morality stories are often quite sensitive on their subject matters, and Watanuki’s naïveté helps reinforce the end result of the individuals’ wishes. The art style, despite being flawed at times, can also be quite entertaining and unbelievably beautiful when depicting the most mundane objects. The voice work is well done enough to not detract from the overall show, and the musical score, title track, and credit sequence are fitting for the type of series that xxxHolic is.
Additionally, Watanuki’s character development by the end of the series is quite exceptional, and while pieces of his character still remain, Yuuko’s gradual transformation of his personality is quite striking. Rewatching the series is recommended if you have the time, just to see how much of a change goes through the main character by the end of the volumes.
All in all, I give xxxHolic my cautious approval. The series certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re an anime fan with a penchant toward CLAMP products or if you’re just looking for something out of the box, xxxHolic will fulfill that need.
©2006 CLAMP/KONDANSHA / Ayakashi Workshop